Mudslide shuts down I-5 near Bellingham for hours

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — A huge mudslide shut down northbound I-5 near Bellingham for eight hours Saturday before crews were able to move the dirt, trees and rocks that covered the highway.

The mudslide happened at about 8:15 a.m. Saturday overlooking Lake Samish.

Crews worked until about 4:30 p.m. to get the highway back open.

Transportation crews were still moving the mud, dirt, rocks and trees that came off the hillside down onto I-5 when KIRO 7 arrived in midafternoon.

The force was so great, it took out 200 feet of the guardrail.

“We’re estimating anywhere from a 100 to a 125 cubic yards (came down),” said Theo Donk, maintenance superintendent with the Washington State Department of Transportation.

That’s more than a ton of debris, enough to block both northbound lanes. Donk says they had to call in a geotechnician to make sure it was even safe for them to work.

“He said it was safe to go on up there,” said Donk. “All the loose stuff, most of it, is already down on the ground.”

So they got busy.

But that meant shutting down I-5 and diverting traffic at milepost 242, at times causing a 2-mile backup.

By the time one driver stopped, trying to decide his next move, the road had been closed for hours. The closure still came as a surprise to him.

“No idea,” said Scot Fritschle, of Federal Way.

Fritschle said he was heading to his cousin’s home in Maple Falls when he caught in the backup. But then he added, with a laugh, “I’m thinking of turning around.”

Meanwhile, crews were putting the finishing touches on the cleanup, preparing to reopen the highway.

“There’s going to be a few more little rocks maybe moving throughout the evening,” said Donk. “But as you can see, we built a berm’ so it’s going to act like a catch fence. So, it should be no problem for debris going out onto the highway. It should be 100% safe.”

He says crews will be back in a few days to repair the guardrail. So, there will be more lane closures but not a full shutdown as drivers experienced Saturday.